Should be in bed. Should be asleep. Instead, I’m wasting time. At least that’s what it feels like. I’m between books. I’m not working on a story, poem, or the novel. I’m looking at Craigslist and IKEA. Thinking about all the stuff that needs to get done in the next few months. Thinking about having a daughter and how so much will change. My metaphor has been high-diving. You don’t know what it will be like until your in the air and, so quickly, entering the water, a moment, an instance flashes by. The transition that you’re thinking of, or planning, happens and you find yourself there.

Soon though, the semester will end, and then we’ll have time to get the baby’s room ready. To shift things around the house. To welcome a new life into the world.

Crowdfunding Scintilla

I started Scintilla three years ago to get back into the literary world of publishing and to learn how to work with WordPress and PHP. Some friends had begun The Cupboard and part of me wished I was involved in a project like that. Why not do it myself, I asked? Armed with a credit card and the support of R, I decided to give it a try. As the magazine has grown, I realized I could use some help. Being free and without ads, there’s no source of revenue. It’s available to anyone with a web connection and I love that. I love that anyone could stumble upon it and enjoy it.

Two weeks ago, I created an IndieGoGo campaign with the goal to raise enough money to cover hosting, the submission manager, and domain registration. We met the goal of $200 last week, but IndieGoGo has a $500 minimum that makes it look like we’re 2/3 of the way there. If you still want to contribute to the magazine, we could definitely use your help, otherwise just keep on submitting great writing. Thanks!

Review: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

raising steamTerry Pratchett‘s latest Discworld novel, Raising Steam, feels like the 40th book in the series. By now the pattern is set. Pratchett picks something to satirize and away we go to Discworld to watch it play out. In this case, it’s technology, specifically trains. And, that’s fine. It’s expected. It’s like eating breakfast at your favorite cafe, because you know the pancakes will be just fluffy enough, the bacon will be crisp, and the coffee cup is never empty. But, after writing forty novels in this series it seems like Pratchett is afraid to take any risks.

The first Discworld novel I read was Thief of Time. In that novel it felt like there was a real threat. There were consequences. In Raising Steam, the plot feels like a manufactured crisis. The reader knows nothing bad will happen to Moist von Lipwig. The crisis with the dwarves is both a play at extremists and luddites, but it’s also flimsy. Is it the writing? Is it’s Pratchett’s love for his world? Part of it stems from the depictions of Moist von Lipwig as always coming out on top. If that’s been established, then we know nothing is at risk.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel for letting me visit Discworld again; however, the magic wasn’t there. It was predictable and the humor came across as a loud noise in an empty room. Have we heard the jokes before? Or is a satire with nothing to risk just not that funny?

Surreal moment swimming tonight, of being on my back staring up at the glass ceiling and seeing the reflected image of my body tracking along the sky.

Review: At Night We Walk In Circles by Daniel Alarcón

The structure of a novel serves the narrative. If the structure doesn’t make sense for the story being told, then it doesn’t achieve its purpose. In Daniel Alarcón’s novel At Night We Walk In Circles, the structure is that of interviews and scenes that read like third-person omniscient. It’s a strange effect as the narrator remains out of frame for most of the novel. He’s nameless. His connection to the other characters is uncertain. The knowledge he has to tell the story seems too great. But, it works. The reason it works is that the amount of information he gathers from the characters and from their writings creates a framework for him to become such a powerful narrator. How can he describe their thoughts after an event? He can turn to that page in their journal, read it, and weave it into the larger story.

The narrator, through pursuing the story and discovering how events led to a moment where his life intersected with the other characters, creates a sense of mystery that propels the story forward. Who is he? Why is he telling the story? The answers will come and they’re worth the wait.

In some ways, At Night We Walk In Circles reminds me of Roberto Bolaño’s, The Savage Detectives. Both novels use diaries and interviews to tell the narrative. Characters speak to an unknown narrator and a sense of mystery surrounds the narrative as the truth, or some version of it, is uncovered. Both novels revolves around writers and artists who inhabit the edges of society.

The premise of Alarcón’s novel is that a radical troop of actors reunites to celebrate the performance of their play, The Idiot President, for which the writer, director, and actor was imprisoned by the government. In this re-casting of the play, a young actor who worshipped the writer is chosen to act in the play and travel the country with the other two actors. What follows is a sense of losing one’s way, an understanding of love and imprisonment, and a question of chance and fate. Though perhaps fate is too strong a word. Instead, it may be a question of what outcomes become inevitable as people make choices? As the young actor follows in the steps of his hero, he becomes both the memory which haunts the hero, as well as the hero himself.

At Night We Walk In Circles is an enjoyable novel that transports its reader deep in the Andean mountains, moving into thinner air, higher altitudes and leaving the reader moments to pause in delight at the vista below.

Poem Draft: On Sunday the Atheists Shop

While the lots of First Baptist
and Central Methodist are filled
tight like parishioners in the pews
knees touching knees
beneath khaki and hose
the atheists are on the move
weaving through town
as the minister stands to preach.

Faces unshaven, elastic
waisted pants slipped on
between bedroom and front door
tennis shoes lightly laced
the atheists shop. They pray
to finish before the worshippers
pile into the grocery store
the aisles overflowing with combed hair
eye shadow just so, and kids in collared shirts
as the faithful greet one another, hands
pressed firm, inquiring after grandma
or the girls, amidst the unwashed
who hunt for a bargain
and sample cheese, the lactose covered cracker
crunching and melting in their mouth
a mix of pepper jack and whole grains.

Carts heaped like collection plates
the atheists whisk through the checkout
barcodes scan, small talk is made, numbers
transfer from card to computer.

At home, the family gathers. Bags
are brought in, unloaded.
The ritual completes and the meaning
is found in another day, another week
spent together, preparing food
joining around the table as dinner is served
and silence gives way to voices, laughter
the sounds of people sharing a meal.

Review: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

Perhaps, I’d feel differently if I’d read the book instead of listened to the audiobook, but Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin is a novel that’s overly dense, without being especially weighty. For the first half / twelve hours of the novel, I found it enjoyable. Helprin writes with a style that takes pleasure in metaphor and seeks them out in every description. To use a metaphor though, Helprin’s writing is a bit like a Victorian house, it’s ornate to the point of distraction. What started out as fun became tiresome. Not every description needs to be exaggerated. What does that level of description do? Is Helprin creating a more magical landscape or does he not know when to stop? Whichever the case may be, it created a narrative that lumbers forward. Action and pace slow, caught up in the Candyland-like quagmire of imagery, somewhere between Molasses Swamp and Lake of the Coheeries.

Continue reading “Review: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin” »

Are MOOCs The New Books? The Answer May Surprise You.

Sorry, you’ve been upworthied!1 But, check out this quote regarding education and books.

Learning to read is different, moreover, from learning by reading. Reliance on apprenticeship training, oral communication, and special mnemonic devices had gone together with mastering letters in the age of scribes. After the advent of printing, however, the transmission of written information became much more efficient. It was not only the craftsman outside universities who profited from the new opportunities to teach himself. Of equal importance was the chance extended to bright undergraduates to reach beyond their teachers’ grasp. Gifted students no longer needed to sit at the feet of a given master in order to learn a language or academic skill. Instead, they could swiftly achieve mastery on their own, even by sneaking books past their tutors – as did the young would-be astronomer, Tycho Brahe. (Eisenstein 38)2

Have books replaced teachers since the creation of the printing press? Do you still think videos and MOOCs will replace teachers?

  1. I really dislike upworthy headlines and this is a poor attempt at humor. []
  2. Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print. []

DIY Desk Redesign

Yesterday, I completed my writing space at home. The final stage involved taking the top off of my old, secondhand desk I bought at an estate sale in St. Louis and screwing on some steel legs. It turned a desk with a narrow space for a chair into a more open workspace. Best of all, it was easy to do. If you’re interested in doing something similar, you can order legs from Hairpin Legs or Modern Legs.

Hairpin Leg Desk

1poetry voice noun \ˈpō-ə-trē, -i-trē also ˈpȯ(-)i-trē ˈvȯis\

a : a warbling of the vocal cords that allows the speaker to move from breathless whispers to punctuated singsong according to an unknown rhythm

b : a treatable disease that predominantly affects young poets

Examples of POETRY VOICE

  • “Everywhere and nowhere,” she said in her poetry voice, standing on stage with her eyes closed.
  • I drank so much PBR, I lost my poetry voice!


Middle English, from Old French vois, from Latin voc-, vox;akin to Old High German giwahanen to mention, Greek eposword, speech, Sanskrit vāk voice

First Known Use: 14th century


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